Meet the 14 members of our most recent training class who graduated triumphantly on July 23, 2005. Once you’ve read their perspectives and learned of their amazing past and present lives, please consider providing your support to future guide dog teams like them.
Support Guiding Eyes Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews and photographs for this article.
Karl Belanger and Quasar
Karl Belanger from Dover, New Hampshire has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his first dog, Quasar, a handsome male yellow Lab. Karl is entering his senior year in high school this year and came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind because they were willing and able to take a young undergrad. Karl was born with optic nerve hypoplasia; he does have some light perception. Describing himself as outgoing, with a sense of humor, he has a serious side as well: he loves working on computers and maintains high grades in his honors classes. Karl has also been a Boy Scout for many years and is now polishing up his Eagle Scout project, which consists of an audio walking tour of 15 sites in the Dover area, which describes their importance in history. His sights for college are set on attending Northeastern, Gordon College, or MIT next year where he will major in Computer Science. Karl recalled writing a paper when he was in the eighth grade crediting God for His influence and direction in his life; however he does attribute a lot of his present success and aspirations to his parents’ love and sage guidance as well. Speaking fondly of Quasar, Karl says that he is “definitely obedient, attentive and likes people” and will, without question, give him a true gift of independence outside of his home. Karl has spent some exciting moments para sailing, and plans to do it again, but says in general, he loves sports games (he’s a Red Sox fan) and likes science fiction; he has read every one of the Harry Potter books. Karl is truly happy that he came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “I like it a lot here! The trainers are firm, but at the same time, easygoing and kind. This place is GREAT!
MJ Bouchard and Eleanor
Mary Jeanne (“MJ”) Bouchard is a Special Needs student, formerly of Vermont, but now living in St. Augustine, Florida, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first dog, Eleanor. She came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind as a result of noticing their name on a jacket worn by a Guiding Eyes for the Blind puppy! MJ, now 57 years old, became totally Deaf as a result of Ushers Syndrome just ten years ago. She is certainly a most outgoing, happy, intelligent and friendly person who spills her spirit of joy over everyone she meets! MJ has enjoyed an illustrious and productive career, starting with her yearning to be a microbiologist. She attended New Hampshire Vocational College, but fell just short of getting a degree. Later she moved to Vermont and while a resident there, became a political activist for the disabled, affecting some important legislation in the Senate and allocation of funds for preschools and independent programs for the Deaf. She also does quilting by hand and by machine, and loves to get her hands dirty in her garden. MJ describes Eleanor as wonderful, strong, playful, independent and intuitive. She aptly described her feeling for Eleanor by signing her as “Superwoman.” She also expressed her total delight at the level of comfort, training and thoughtfulness that Guiding Eyes for the Blind has shown her. She is especially grateful for Ellin Purcell, Kate Bledsoe and Miranda Beckmann for their excellent signing skills and patience.
Mike Cieslinkski and Tristan
Cheektowaga (you pronounce it); New York is the home of Mike Cieslinkski, another 17-year-old, who has come to claim his first dog, Tristan, from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. His mobility instructor suggested that Guiding Eyes for the Blind would be the right place for him. Blind from retinal blastoma, Mike has been blind since he was six years old. A personable, nice, easy going yet quiet sort of guy, he is also a student in the true sense of the word. Mike, a braillist, is entering his senior year of New York’s High School Regents program; his studies include American History, Government, Math and English 2; in addition, he is attending college credit courses in Criminal Justice given by BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services). He plans to apply to the University of Buffalo and major in Law and Civil Discrimination. In his spare time, Mike, although his favorite food is pizza, works at a sub (sandwich) shop in nearby Niagara Falls. Mike describes Tristan as fun, energetic, obedient and playful. He especially likes to play with his water dish, with no concerns for wiping up the floor. Tristan does however, have concern for his new master and Mike has learned to trust and follow his lead implicitly. Mike cites his 24- year-old brother for providing a good example and giving him good advice, and also his friend’s dad, a policeman, for keeping him on the straight and narrow. Mike likes to hang out with his friends and listen to the radio, when he has the time. Speaking of the July class, he said, “Everybody gets along – we have all come here for the same reason.” With nothing but highest accolades for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Mike says he can’t get over the “amazing campus and program set up, accommodations, training and of course, the dogs – all provided for and by nice and wonderful people! The program is par excellence! I love it here!”
Barb DePaul and Wilson
Whitehall, Pennsylvania is the home of Barb DePaul, who came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first dog, Wilson, a handsome black male Lab. Barb came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind on the advice of her mobility instructor and reputation of the School. Legally blind since birth from retinopathy of prematurity, as well as retinitus pigmentosa and later detached retinas and cataracts, Barb has lived a fruitful and happy life. Now at age 52, she boasts of her three daughters and one son (and two grandchildren) and her life with her “significant other” who is also blind. Describing herself as outgoing, and friendly, she thought a bit and quietly admitted to being “somewhat opinionated;” she does solidly believe in the Golden Rule: that you should treat others as you want them to treat you. Barb attended Allegheny Community College for two years, then spent some time in nursing school and working in a hospital, and re- entered Allegheny CC to continue to work on a degree. Now, determined to serve as a rehab counselor in the Juvenile Justice Department, she will continue her studies at University of Pittsburgh for a B.S. in Social Work and then go on for her Masters in that area. Although she loves to crochet, and is an avid Cardinals fan, Barb does have an adventurous side. She loves horseback riding, roller coasters (big time) and would like to go sky diving but can’t find anyone to go with her. She also loves country music: Barbara Streisand is one of her favorite singers. Wilson, a prison pup, is loveable: he loves to be hugged and babied, and enjoys giving wet and sloppy kisses. She knows that he will make it a lot easier for her to get around on her own. Citing a cross-country trip in a VW without any money an exciting adventure, she now looks forward to her next challenge – that of finding a job. High praise to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. They really know what they’re doing!
Jessica Eggert and Nan
Jessica Eggert, another Special Needs student this month, hails from Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. She came to claim her first Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, Nan. Jess came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind as a result of the good advice given her by Joe Cioffi, a friend. Jessica was happy that she followed his advice; everything he said was true! Jessica was born Deaf, and has limited vision as a result of retinitus pigmentosa. She describes herself as outgoing, a teaser who tries to be funny, likes to socialize and go to the movies. Her very favorite place in the world is the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Jessica is an energetic 28-year old who is a third-year student studying Criminal Justice at Metropolitan State University. She would like to be a probation officer for juveniles. Jessica’s favorite “playtoy” is Side Kick – a portable electronic tool that does almost anything, but cooks your dinner for you (it takes flash pictures, e-mails, contains the Internet and has a speaker phone). Jessica describes Nan as playful, affectionate, stubborn, and curious and a wonderful worker. Jess has, up until the present, had to depend on others to accompany her; she now looks forward to Nan’s expertise in helping her to be more independent in going out more on her own. Acquiring Nan as a companion and guide has been a very emotional experience for Jess and she says that a life that once felt futile now is filled with hope and expectancy. Her sign name for Jess means “close to my heart.” Says Jessica: “Nan has changed my life. Now I feel really safe, even when I’m crossing busy streets.” She echoed her colleague’s praise of the very special staff that could “sign” and make everything understandable to her. When asked about her other personal impressions of Guiding Eyes for the Blind her smile went from ear to ear as she exclaimed: “It’s so wonderful here. Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s Special Needs program has to be #1 in the United States. I will continue to refer others to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. They are great!”
Maggie Galbarczyk and Ingmar
Malgorzata (Maggie) Galbarczyk is an effervescent 24 year old, temporarily living in New York but a native Polish lass who will return to her homeland as soon as possible with her first Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, Ingmar. She came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind because it was the only school that would take a student from her country. She is more than satisfied and happy with the outcome. Maggie was born with cataracts and glaucoma. By the age of 15, she had endured 16 surgeries, (some exploratory) each one very painful and unsuccessful. To date she has had 27 surgeries, the last of which has been an implantation of fat and skin from her hip to the eyes to lay a foundation for some prostheses. It has been a long journey for Maggie, and it’s not over yet. Maggie is self-described as being a good person, a positive and an intellectual thinker who has a keen sense of humor and is goal oriented. She hopes to attend Columbia University for three years in New York to complete her major in Psychology and has yet one more year to obtain a degree in Linguistics. Maggie enjoys cycling, swimming and reading British contemporary literature. At the age of 15, Maggie attended the Lasky School for the Blind in Poland and later, in high school, she was required to learn to speak English, which certainly came in handy later on. Ingmar is energetic, good natured, cheerful, happy and content, whose body language is easy to read. Maggie also notes he is “a university type.” With Ingmar at her side, Maggie already has a sense of new confidence and feels that the dog will enable her to move about more quickly, give her more structure to her daily life, and enhance her social skills as well. Guide dogs in Poland are as yet “untried.” A great admirer of Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s training techniques and their results, Maggie knows that Ingmar will be a sterling example of what can and should be done for the visually impaired in her native land.
Gena Hall and Gordie
Gena Hall will return to Chicago, Illinois with Gordie, her third dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Gena came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind as the result of the advice of her mobility instructor, which was strongly confirmed by a videotape depicting the School’s program that was seen by her mom. Gena, now 33 years old (one could easily mistake her as a teenager), became blind as the result of surgery to correct loss of some vision caused by glaucoma when she was 20. Subsequent efforts were made through The National Institute of Health Research in Bethesda, Maryland to correct her condition, but failed. Gena began her college career at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas but received her B.A. in Speech Pathology and Audiology at Brooklyn College. In the meantime, working at a bank in Chicago, she has been accepted into Loyola University, Chicago and will study for her Masters in Child and Family Law/Social Work. Gena is a determined, approachable, easy to talk to, up-front and positive young woman which all are reflected in her philosophy of life: “If you believe it’s impossible or unattainable, you can do it! She claims a strong spiritual sense of guidance and approaches each day at the peak of confidence. She knows that Gordie, with his independent, happy personality, is an excellent match for her. She treasures Gordie’s morning wake-up signal rendered by his gentle paw stroking her arm. Gena loves to read “who-dunnits,” and enjoys music, she sings, and likes to take a good swim for exercise. Speaking excitedly of Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s program, she said: “They really care here! The trainers and instructors are dedicated in purpose and working together, they are a successful team!”
Katie Katulak and Cabot
Kettering, Ohio is the hometown of Katie Katulak, who has come to claim Cabot, a handsome Golden Retriever, her first dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Katie discovered Guiding Eyes for the Blind through thorough research. When she applied, she found Guiding Eyes for the Blind to be the most accommodating in their response. Katie became blind in 2001 as a result of an unknown systemic virus that disguises itself and therefore defies diagnosis and remedial treatment. Katie, undaunted by her physical dilemma, now at age 18 is entering her second year at Wright State University, majoring in Political Science and Modern Languages. She would like to continue her education at law school and work to defend human rights for a non-governmental agency. Katie credits her dad for instilling in her a drive for achievement. Katie, who believes solidly in taking life one day at a time, is an outgoing, mellow, open (and stubborn) person. She enjoys listening to music, singing (Karaoke especially) and enjoys working on her computer. Katie is also adept at public speaking and has successfully competed in Model United Nations debates. Cabot, although not gifted with speech, is loving, sort of crazy, hyper, but serious and obedient and Katie has great faith in his direction. Her greatest feeling of exhilaration with Cabot is loving him so much, but at the same time keeping him under control. “I love and trust him – and feel as though I have known him forever.” Being at Guiding Eyes for the Blind has given me an expanded perspective of the blind community. Katie’s next challenge in life? Obtaining a 4.0 in college!
Rick Killfoile and Abraham
Rick Killfoile has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Pittstfield, Massachusetts to claim his third dog, Abraham. He first heard of Guiding Eyes for the Blind from a former graduate and has been a grateful recipient ever since. He claims it was the best advice he has ever been given. He also spoke proudly and fondly of Vinnie and Noah, his first two dogs. Rick, now 58 years old, has partial sight, but was born with retinitus pigmentosa. Rick boasts of his wife: one biological child, one adopted from Korea, five stepchildren, who each proudly call him “dad,” and two grandchildren. Rick is an avid and interesting conversationalist, who is detailed, loves to spend time on his computer and says that he enjoys giving people a hard time. After working as a 911 dispatcher for 17 years, he turned his attention to a few less emotionally stressful jobs: working at a bank, then making collections on repossessed cars, and presently, as a paid employee of Good Will Industries where he just does whatever they tell him to do. Rick describes his new black Lab as “a meatball” – a real character (like himself), who expresses his affection by placing his head on Rick’s foot, as though he were saying, “You’re not going anywhere without me, buddy!” They understand each other perfectly. Abe kept his new master out of harm’s way in three separate traffic checks involving a bus, truck and car. Bravo, Abraham! The answers to a few trivia questions I asked Rick revealed that his favorite food is a big piece of rare prime rib. He loves more than anything to be a helping hand, and considers the hitchhiking days of his youth to have been very risky. Referring to his experience with Guiding Eyes for the Blind: “I can’t say enough. They are professional and caring!”
Shayna Malov and Judy
Shayna Malov is currently living in Brooklyn, New York and has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to claim Judy, her second dog (first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind). Shayna first heard of Guiding Eyes for the Blind from a former student and is happy that she decided to follow that advice. A routine eye exam when Shayna was seventeen revealed that she had retinitus pigmentosa. From that point, the degenerative condition became progressively worse until she had no sight at all. Shayna, twice married, is the mother of seven children. Her husband walked from Peekskill to the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Yorktown Campus, a sizeable hike of 7+ miles, to visit his wife on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Shayna is a well informed, laid back, and a happy people-person. If she has any vice, it could be her avid love for food, especially nuts and avocados. Originally from Los Angeles, Shayna attended Los Angeles City College, majoring in Secretarial Science and Pre-school Education. She then attended Tauro College, and majored in Psychology and Human Resources and has continued to volunteer in that field. Judy, like her mistress, is quiet and laid back; add to that her obvious joy in being obedient, and Shayna knows that Judy will enable her to enjoy more independence in her day-to-day ventures into the outside world. Judy uses her paws in Shayna’s lap as a sign of her devotion. Shayna learned on her first traffic workout with Judy that she could depend on her new companion. The dog stopped on a dime preventing Shayna from walking into the path of a car proceeding out of a driveway. Shayna has always enjoyed reading, and misses that the most. A resident of Israel for eleven years, she also misses being there now. She feels it is the most exciting and wonderful place to live. In Israel, a translation of Judy’s name is “Yehudis.” “I am so very impressed at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. It is one big happy family here. I like the way they have built the instruction system, step by step.”
Gina Natoli and Chevy
Middlesex, New Jersey is the home of Ginamarie (Gina) Natoli, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to claim her first dog, Chevy, a handsome, pensive, well mannered and obedient yellow Lab. Ginamarie came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind at the advice of a former graduate. Legally blind as a result of retinopathy of prematurity, Gina, now at the age of 19, is looking forward with great expectancy to attending Kutztown University, in Pennsylvania, where she will major in Special Education for working with the visually impaired. Gina describes herself as being quiet, nice, caring, conscientious, and one who is hard working and makes friends easily. She attributes many of her positive traits and mannerisms to the positive support of her mom, who has consistently taught her to feel good about herself and to know that she is indeed a unique person. Gina feels that the best advice she has ever been given is that “anything is possible if you put your mind to it.” Among her hobbies are playing guitar, piano and performing magic! In order to de-stress, she likes to listen to music. She happily reminisced a bit about the wonderful family camping adventures on the Delaware River as she was growing up. Still working on getting to know various commands and how they work, Gina feels that she and Chevy are on the road to becoming real buddies and that he will enhance her independence and gives her so much more confidence as she moves about, especially to college. “Thank you, Guiding Eyes for the Blind for giving me Chevy and a huge slice of what a rewarding, safe, productive and enjoyable life can really be!”
Jill Peterson and Arthur
Jill Peterson, our only ACTION (Accelerated Client Training Option) student this month, has come from Atlanta, Georgia to claim her second Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, Arthur. Jill’s initial choice of Guiding Eyes for the Blind was predicated by its proximity to her Connecticut home: but now she returns because she knows from experience that Guiding Eyes for the Blind is “the best.” Her loss of sight occurred as a result of Hydrocephalus when Jill was 18 years old and had just begun her studies at Western Connecticut State University where she graduated with a B.A. in Psychology. Her personality is somewhat dichotomous; she admits to being shy, serious and reserved, yet is outgoing, and loves to joke around. Jill feels that Arthur will more than fill the bill for her with his warm, sensitive spirit and readiness to work like a “jack rabbit on the run.” Yazz, Jill’s former guide dog, has been retired since November and will continue to live at home. After teaching for a number of years, Jill, now 48, has become a part time licensed massage therapist and thoroughly enjoys it. Jill relaxes by doing crossword puzzles, reading, walking and swimming and stated she has done both water and snow skiing and climbed the pyramids in Mexico. When asked about the best advice she had ever been given and would like to pass on, she said: “Do it once and do it right.” In the realm of exciting experiences, Jill cited being struck by a bolt of lightning, which instantly enhanced her vision so that she could see across the room! Wow! Her major focus right now is seeing her 13-year-old son through college and raising him to be a good person. Describing Arthur as a “touchy-feely” dog, when he sits by her side, he always places one front paw in her lap. She knows that Arthur will give her total freedom when she returns to Atlanta. Speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, “The trainers (and the dogs) are phenomenal. I would come back in a heartbeat!”
Briley Pollard and TJ
Newport News, Virginia is the home of 19-year-old Briley Pollard, who will take home TJ, her first Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog. Briley was strongly influenced by a former grad, Phyllis Campbell, who had her Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog for eleven years. Briley was born with Lebers congenital amorosis, a degenerative condition of the eyes. She is self described as (although seemingly shy), fun loving, loud, crazy, creative and friendly. She particularly enjoys being with people who are culturally aware, intelligent and can tell her things of which she has no knowledge. She is infinitely happy with just “being herself” and harbors a sincere wish to be famous some day. That wish may very well come true. Briley, majoring in Vocal Performance, is in her second year at James Madison University. She would like some day, to eventually leave Virginia and attend The New England Conservatory of Music to study Jazz. She also loves to write stories and poetry, reads a lot, swims for exercise, and vegges out listening to folk music and hanging out with her friends. Briley is thankful for the encouragement and support of her mom and dad, who have given her the gift of having confidence in herself. Briley says that TJ is very relaxed, likes to sleep, (he can do it anywhere), and loves to be hugged, but when he’s working, he knows he’s on the job. “I respect his ability for finding his way and especially working in pedestrian and vehicular traffic. I know he will give me a lot more independence on the streets as well as expand my social life when I return home. Guiding Eyes for the Blind is wonderful. I love it: it’s so great meeting and talking with others who are blind and listening to how they cope. I’m so happy that I came in the summer and have met so many cool people. The trainers and instructors are awesome! Thank you!”
Chrissy Weymouth and Lizzie
Chrissy Weymouth, an 18-year old Texan lassie from Bandera, was introduced to her first Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, Lizzie. Chrissy came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind upon hearing the great kudos given by a friend who came, received a dog and is most happy. At the age of two months, it was discovered that Chrissy had retinopathy of prematurity, which eventually set the wheels in motion for securing a guide dog. Chrissy describes herself as somewhat introverted, who loves her down time, but also claims to be a real daredevil when it comes to roller coasters. Chrissy is now attending Texas Tech, majoring in music performance – specifically focusing on the clarinet. Her other musical interests include the penny whistle, flute and voice. Chrissy also loves to write poetry in her spare time. She has learned through the years, through the pattern and example set by her mother, to trust herself and to follow her instincts. The instincts of her appetite have led her into a finger-lickin’ liking for chocolate, fettuccini Alfredo and mozzarella cheese. Some of the most exciting and risky things she’s engaged in include mountain climbing and bike riding. How will Lizzie take to her new biped companion? Lizzie is laid back, likes to sleep, play and chew. She seems able to read her new mistress intuitively, is intelligent and very sweet. Lizzie covers Chrissy’s face and arms with sloppy kisses at grooming time. There is a question as to who is grooming whom. Chrissy knows that Lizzie will enable her to experience more independence, especially getting around the University campus. About Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Chrissy states: “I love it here. I love the people, the instructors, and the classmates are hilarious. Oh yes, the food is great too!”